The U.S.-Canada border crossing in Madawaska where the international bridge crosses the St. John River into Edmundston. Credit: Hannah Catlin/St. John Valley Times

FORT KENT, Maine — Thanks to the new omicron variant, COVID-19 has complicated cross-border travel once again.

The Canadian government today reinstated the requirement for a pre-arrival negative COVID-19 PCR test result for all Canadian travelers re-entering the country after short trips of less than 72 hours. In November, testing requirements had eased and fully vaccinated Canadians were allowed to re-enter without a PCR test.

Public Health Agency of Canada announced the change is in response to the spread of the omicron variant of the virus. For one Canadian resident with ties to the St. John Valley, the requirement has turned the joy of easy crossings on its head like a gift being taken away.

Members of Les Chanteurs Acadiens (from left) Don Levesque, Roger Damboise and Charles Stewart perform in Fort Kent in 2018. (File: Jessica Potila | St. John Valley Times)

“Congratulations! You just won the MegaBucks! No, wait … sorry,” Don Levesque of Edmundston said today.

“The COVID test obstacle has returned. But COVID cases seem to [be] rampant throughout the Valley and masks are only here and there. So, it’s a little scary going over there, anyway,” Levesque said.

Last week, he made the most of his ability to cross the international border to visit friends and family in the St. John Valley for the first time in two years.

The cost of testing, combined with the fact that results were not guaranteed within 72 hours, prevented Levesque from visiting the United States.

Originally from Grand Isle, Levesque maintains many ties to the St. John Valley, including his brother Dave who lives just across the St. John River in the border town of Madawaska.

Although the two talk daily, they had not seen one another in person for two years.

“At least we got a chance to go to lunch a few times,” Levesque said.  

During his trip across the border last week, Levesque also met up with his two bandmates in the group Les Chanteurs Acadiens, Roger Damboise and Charles Stewart, who both live in northern Maine,

The band recorded music together for the first time in two years, a few Christmas tunes in French.

The Acadian folk musicians have been playing music together since 1996.

Levesque volunteers for a number of groups based in the St. John Valley.

“I did get to attend an education committee meeting and a finance committee meeting as well as a Club Francais meeting … so there’s that, seeing old friends again,” he said. “I got a lot done in those few days. I could even buy ploye mix and red hot dogs twice and gas up once.”

Canadians were able to travel across the U.S. land border again starting on Nov. 8, which marked the end of more than 20 months the U.S. prevented its land ports of entry from welcoming visitors from Canada and Mexico to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Canada had opened its land borders to vaccinated Americans on Aug. 9.

Levesque said he understands why the testing regulation was reinstated.

“Intellectually, I agree, but emotionally, no,” he said.

Maine on Tuesday recorded 1,559 coronavirus cases and another 22 deaths since the weekend.